January 2017

Avoid Problems By Preventing Them

2017-03-01T11:44:15-04:00 Categories: SandBlog, solve, TWAW|Tags: , , |

An excellent way to solve problems is by not letting them happen in the first place, through prevention.

Prevention is why we bring our cars in for maintenance, visit our doctor for an annual exam, and have a mid-year check-in with our boss.

We want to avoid surprises and discover potential issues while they’re forming to prevent bigger problems in the future. We examine something, monitoring it comparing now to the past looking for any changes.

How would you like to be ahead of your colleagues in knowing what’s happening in your industry with your products, and among your competition? Oh… and for free without the investment of a research marketing firm?

Your Secret Tool: Google Alerts

A great free tool to let you monitor your business is Google Alerts.

Just enter your search terms, your email, and frequency of delivery and Google searches the internet for this information. When it finds a match, it will send you an email with links to relevant content. It is free and only takes a moment to set-up.

A great way to track your company, your competition, and your industry.

Sample searches include:

  • your company name,
  • your product(s) name,
  • your industry, or
  • your competition.

Combine those words with other keywords such as:

  • your company name + “trends,”
  • your product category + “developments,”
  • your industry name + “legislation,” or
  • your product category + “innovation.”

Before you read another email or visit another website, right now, create a few Google alerts for yourself. Here’s the link: Google Alerts.

These alerts are an effective and efficient way to stay informed and get the latest information and trends. I promise you very few of your co-workers have these set-up. Get ready to impress your co-workers!

June 2016

Meetings Don’t Bore People…

2016-06-10T11:42:12-04:00 Categories: SandBlog|Tags: , |

Meetings don't bore people. People do.

We blame our meetings for lack of innovation and progress in our companies.

It has been declared “brainstorming doesn’t work!”

We spend our days sitting, wasting time, energy, and money in boring… tan… artifically-lit conference rooms. Accomplishing? Nothing.

But, here’s the thing… Meetings don’t bore people. People do!

That meeting wasn’t bad. Frank didn’t plan.

Brainstorming isn’t dead. Francesco made no effort to craft a structured session to get to the core of the problem so the team could drum-up innovative solutions!

If we want to be innovative and grow our brands – we have to stop blaming the meeting and take responsibility as meeting planners and meeting participants.

August 2013

Why (And How) to Develop Great Ideas

2013-08-27T01:26:45-04:00 Categories: SandBlog, solve, think|Tags: , |

To help make an idea great, it has got to have a “why” attached to it (the justification) and a “how” to make it possible (the logistics).

Sometimes, when brainstorming, people become attached to certain ideas. Or maybe there is an idea they’ve brought in with them to the meeting. Or you’ll come across that “great idea” put upon the team by a company executive … who heard it from his nephew.

Though any of these may seem brilliant, until they are justified as both (a) supporting business strategy and (b) logistically practical, they can’t be considered viable.

To assist with this step during brainstorming sessions, I created a paper guide which allows participants to document to make sure they think through, and solve, both “why” and “how.”

You’ll also notice, at the bottom of the guide, I provide additional filters. In the case of the attached example we measure for ease, investment, and reach. (Insert your appropriate filtering questions there).

Why+How=Great Idea Guide [Word document, 46 KB].

It is a simple tool, but serves its purpose to ensure ideas are not just clever, but appropriate and feasible.

I invite you to give it a try. Let me know how it works for you.

December 2012

Innovation Is A Phenomenon, Not A Strategy

2017-08-21T16:16:17-04:00 Categories: create, Innovation, Sand for Your Inbox, SandBlog|Tags: , , , , , |

Innovation isn’t something you do; it is something that happens – a result. To be “innovative”, you have to focus on the things that create that result, not the result itself.

We can’t directly control what is considered innovative no more than a director can guarantee their movie will be Oscar Award-winning or an ad agency can get their video to go viral. But, we can do the things that typically lead to winning an Oscar or going viral. A great script, a great cast, great directing, great cinematography, an amazing score, great effects, clever editing, remarkability, etc.

So is it with innovation. If we stop focusing on the result, we can focus on the things that go into “being” innovative and make sure we get them right.

So, what are these things? They are what I call the practical steps to innovation. A flow and process that will make sure you’re doing the things that lead to developing innovations.

Monitor → Notice → Define → Generate → Decide →
Plan → Champion → Implement → Monitor (again)
This process is a chain. An assembly line, where the output of one process is sent to the next… The reason many companies fail at being innovative is because they’re either skipping a step or doing a poor job one of the process stages. And we know any chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

The Steps


Keeping an eye on your business horizon. Continually monitor your company, the competition, your industry, and related industries. Consumer insights, trend reports, industry overseas. All this is your raw data.

Notice Situation

You don’t monitor only for the sake of monitoring. Try to spot changes, shifts, indicators, and emerging trends. News of relevant upcoming technology or report of a change in consumer preferences should get you excited and alert. This is making meaning of all the data.

Define Objectives

When you notice a change, problem or opportunity, you should put it in perspective of what it means to you.

Generate Ideas

Using the objectives defined above, pick existing solutions or generate new ideas to meet the goals.

Decide On Solution

Hopefully, you’ve got at least three options generated above. Choose which best satisfies the objective.

Craft Your Plan

Write down the milestones, actions, and tasks as well as the leads and budgets needed to successfully carry out the solution.

Be the Champion

“Ideas are only as fragile the backbone behind them.” You’ve got to create a culture where different and novel isn’t considered scary or too risky. (Else your big ideas get whittled down to wimpy improvements). You’ve got to guide these innovative ideas through to funding, support, and implementation.


I know it sounds obvious… but this is doing it. And, doing it properly. Implementing is also about sticking with a project or program and seeing it through. Don’t let the lack of patience be misinterpreted as lack of success. Too often, we don’t see an overnight result and declare it a failure.

Monitor (again)

Now that you’ve got a program going, you need to add it to the things you’re tracking. Sometimes you’ll notice you need to course correct. That’s great – monitoring will allow you to make those minor adjustments versus sitting back and finding out that you’re not successful, and it’s too late to do anything about it.

To Put Too Fine A Point On It

These ideas need to go beyond creating an improvement – that is simply making something better. They need to be different. They also need to be more than invention – simply creating something. Innovation is better and novel. Innovation is remarkable – literally worth being remarked about.

By following each step you: see changes as they come proactively move to action; build and implement a plan around an idea that is different, better, novel and remarkable.

While declaring something an innovation is ultimately up to the audience, in using this flow, you will have performed all the right steps to generate the right conditions to create an innovation.

August 2012

Tips To Be More Creative And Better At Problem Solving

2012-08-27T14:18:11-04:00 Categories: create, grow, SandBlog, solve, think|Tags: , , , , , , |

I hope your week is off to a great start. I thought you might like to read two recent interviews featuring Idea Sandbox and our approach to creativity and problem solving. They were conducted just a few weeks ago. I hope you’ll be able to take a few tips from these articles to put them to use yourself.

Creative Practice Logo

The first was hosted by Kira Campo from The Creative Practice. Her calling is to help activate creating thinking skills in others.

Kira hosts a series where she highlights some of the ways creative practice can impact professional practices.

Since Idea Sandbox is all about being more creative, this was an easy interview!

Check it out here:
Practice Profile: Paul Williams

Among other things, I share tips on remembering ideas, and how farming methods helped an ad agency fix a problem.

While you’re visiting Creative Practice, poke around and explore Kira’s site. She’s got some great content. Kira’s handle on Twitter is @T_C_P

The second interview was conducted by Emily Wenstrom at Creative Juicer as part of her Creative Careerist series.

Creative Juicer Logo

Emily explores the creative process in art and career. She interviews successful creatives about what their work looks like, and their own creative process.

Here’s the article:
Creative Careerist: Paul Williams

Among other tips, I shared with Emily the “board of directors” I’ve assembled to help think-up ideas, as well as thoughts on how I get myself unstuck, creatively.

Emily’s site is full of great reads specializing in creativity and writing. Find her on Twitter: @EmilyWenstrom

Big thanks to Kira and Emily for being interested enough in Idea Sandbox to warrant conducting an interview. It is an honor.

May 2012

Get Quality Ideas From a Quantity Of Options

2012-05-14T08:23:06-04:00 Categories: SandBlog, solve, think|Tags: , , , , |

You’re in your neighborhood bookstore looking for a title about “social media.” Do you immediately buy the first book you see, on the first shelf of the business section? Probably not.

You visit a new restaurant for a tasty dinner, do you only read the top menu item and order it – ignoring the rest of the menu? I don’t believe you would.

In both situations, before making a decision, you would first review all your options. You’d scan each of the books in the marketing section. You would read the entire menu. Then, from that full selection of offerings, make the best choice.

We appreciate and expect variety and choice with these decisions, but often when making bigger, more financially critical decisions at work… we deny ourselves options. We thwart our capacity to be innovative.

In the name of efficiency, when faced with problems or challenges at work, we go forward with the first workable option we can think of. Business pressure – to get things done quickly and efficiently – causes us to miss options. This can cause us to miss the best solution.

One Item – If you go with the first, only idea you have, that isn’t decision-making. That’s a last resort. Decisions require choosing from a pool of options.

Two Items – Selecting among two alternative ideas isn’t a decision either — it is only choosing this or don’t do this.

Decisions improve in proportion to the number of interesting, attractive, and doable alternatives you have to consider.

We must pile-up a list of unusable ideas. The more ideas you think up, the more likely you are to arrive at one that is brilliant and remarkable.

Even if you think you’ve happened upon the best idea right from the start, you should think up a few more. Picking one idea from a pool of one isn’t a choice. Don’t stop at the first one that seems to fit. Keep thinking. Come up with at least two more ideas for a total of three to choose from.

If that first idea is the one you go with, you can have the confidence that you’ve made a choice. That you weren’t just forced into using the first idea that popped into you mind.

Choice and options, when it comes to important decisions, isn’t a luxury, but a requirement. The next time you or your team start moving with the first idea that pops into mind, entertain other options. You deserve the right to decide, not simply be forced with an approach due to haste. Brainstorm a few more workable ideas. You deserve choices. Remarkable ideas spring from choices.

Innovation Requires Both Ideas And Action

2014-08-24T15:46:35-04:00 Categories: SandBlog, think|Tags: , , , , , |

Ideas have been getting a bad rap lately.

Some say the lack of innovation within organizations isn’t because of a lack of ideas, rather a lack of action. There are too many ideas and not enough implementors.

But, ideas need champions to implement them. Just the same way seeds need farmers.

A popular recommendation is: Stop generating ideas and start taking action. Stop the brainstorming and get to work. To return to my farm comparison, that would be like declaring:

Since crop production (innovation) is down
we need more farmers (execution)
and fewer seeds (ideas).

But that doesn’t work. We’d end up with a bunch of hungry farmers standing in cropless fields.

Fact is, we need both.

There is a symbiotic relationship between the pair. One can’t get along without the other.

We ‘get’ that a seed isn’t a plant. We should understand an idea isn’t a plan. Seed (and ideas) take time, patience, pruning, and weeding to bear fruit.

And, brainstorming is for more than idea generation; it is also a solution-finding process. We meet for more than creating ideas; brainstorming and strategy sessions help us choose the right idea to properly solve the problem or grow the business. Which seed is right for the soil you have? For the amount of water you have access to? What is right for the crop you want to produce?

Next time you run into someone bashing ideas and strictly touting action… Remember, it isn’t one or the other. To be innovative, we need to be good at both idea generation and idea execution.

This article was originally published on the MarketingProf’s DailyFix blog.

April 2012

Hitting Your Innovation Target With A Diagram

2015-01-02T17:15:58-04:00 Categories: SandBlog, solve|Tags: , , |

Compromise gets a bad rap in the United States. Departing with anything less than the biggest, the best, and the most reflects weakness.

Yet, since most of us work in an environment where different people come from different backgrounds with differing approaches on how to reach a similar goal – compromise is a reality.

There are times when you don’t need to win, but you do need diplomacy. You need “best possible.” To strike a balance. A happy medium. This situation calls for a Target Diagram!

This graph is great for plotting something that falls within a realistic range of choices … The prime space between NONE and ALL. It is what you use when you need the right mix.


It is different from a Quadrant Diagram or “2×2” as it is sometimes called… The Quadrant Diagram categorizes the lows and highs of something. The quadrant is great when you’re pushing for the extreme. To maximize.


This is not that.

It is almost like a Venn diagram—where the two or three circles meet representing the perfect blend.

venn_diagramBut, it isn’t that either.

The target diagram is a great way to gauge you’re within established boundaries. Not too high or too low. The business equivalent of what Goldilocks was after at the Bear’s house—”just right.”

To try it, put your two sets of opposing forces at either end of the axes. In my example, I’m balancing website design between what we really want, and what we need to do to meet logistical needs. The goal is to find ideas that comes close to the middle of the target.

Next time your ideas need diplomacy, try graphing them on a target diagram.

This article was originally published on the Marketing Prof’s DailyFix website.

Innovation: Get Stand Out Ideas Approved By Showing How They Fit In

2012-04-24T22:23:14-04:00 Categories: SandBlog, solve|Tags: , , , , |

You have just completed two days of brainstorming. You have narrowed your ideas to the fewer, bigger, and better, and are eager to put them into action. Your next step is to share these ideas within your organization for approval to move forward.

While implementation of these ideas may give your company a competitive advantage – position you as the first or the only – they also may be perceived as too scary and risky for leadership. They may end up whittled down to something boring—or perhaps not implemented at all.

A method to reduce perceived fear and risk is to demonstrate how ideas are safe and how they fit in.

Literary Genius

Very often, when you read the description of a new book, the lead-in will start with the following phrases:

  • “Not since …”
  • “In the tradition of …”

These lead-ins are crafted to help us quickly “get” what a new, different book is about by comparing it to something we already know.

“Not since Good To Great by Jim Collins has a book …” lets buyers know this will be like the best selling Good To Great. If you like Jim Collins, you’ll probably like this new book.

“In the tradition of Tom Peters…” lets you know this book will offer a bold Tom Peters-like leadership message.

If this works to help us quickly understand how this new book is like a old book I like or respect… Why can’t we apply this concept to risky ideas? Let people know this new idea is like the old idea we like or respect.

Here are two examples…

(1) “The first time…” becomes “Not since…” – Instead of focusing on the fact that this is the first time your company is trying something, indicate how the idea is similar to some other well-known successful idea. “Not since we over-hauled the training system three years ago have we had an idea that adds so much efficiency and user-interaction.”

(2) If leadership is afraid to be “the only” company trying something, reframe it as “In the tradition of… – This allow focus on how the idea is similar to something you’re already doing, or a successful idea from outside your company. “In the tradition of high-service hotels, we are going to increase our level of service in all sectors…”

As you champion great ideas, emphasize how and where they fit into what you’re already doing. While it seems counter-intuitive, demonstrating how your ideas actually fit in may be the secret to getting you to stand out.

The book description practice is was pointed out by literary agent Raif Sagalyn and described to me by Todd Sattersten, author of 100 Best Business Books. This article was originally published on the MarketingProfs DailyFix blog.

Drive Innovation: Suggest Ideas, Don’t Propose Them

2012-04-15T12:30:35-04:00 Categories: create, SandBlog, think|Tags: , , , , , |

How something is presented has an effect on how it is received.

Rocket science!? No, it is common sense. Yet, we sometimes neglect the subtleties of presentation and persuasion… especially when we are excited about an idea or innovation.

So many innovative ideas get quashed early – never making it off the whiteboard. Not because the ideas were bad, but due to the way they were presented.

Psychologists have found that the more assertively you express an idea, the more likely it is the person hearing it will resist it.

Wait… higher assertiveness = higher resistance?

Wow! That’s really important insight!

Experiments were conducted in which an idea was presented to someone in one of two ways: either as a proposal or as a suggestion.

  • As a proposal, the idea was given as a statement: “What you should do is…”
  • As a suggestion, the same idea was expressed as a question or reflection: “I wonder if…?”

When an idea was proposed, almost half of the recipients received it skeptically and challenged the idea. (Sound familiar?)

When the same idea was suggested, only 1 out of five recipients stated difficulties.

Telling people what to do can make them defensive, push back, and shut ideas down. Putting forward a suggestion makes it impersonal – allowing the idea to be adopted instead of forced in the mind.

[figure 1]
As indicated in [figure 1] if you suggest ideas, they are more likely to be adopted and developed than if you propose them.

When presenting new ideas – especially in situations where you expect others to be defensive – avoid phrases that begin with:

  • What you should do is…
  • I think you ought to…
  • The best idea would be to…
  • If I were you I would…

Instead, offer your ideas as suggestions. Take out references to “you.” Try these:

  • I wonder if it would be possible to…
  • Has anyone ever thought of…
  • I don’t suppose we could…
  • What if it were…

That same persuasion we use to woo customers should also be considered when we’re trying to develop innovative ideas within our organizations. Next time you have a “crazy idea that just might work,” don’t propose, suggest it.

I learned this technique from the the book Out Of The Box: 101 Ideas For Thinking Creatively by Rob Eastaway. The study was mentioned in the book Improve Your People Skills by Peter Honey.

This article was originally published on the MarketingProf’s DailyFix blog.